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Department of
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation     Restoring Hope Function and Quality of life
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Administrative offices for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine are housed in the penthouse suite of the historic Egyptian Building (constructed in the early 1800's) on the university’s MCV Campus. Considered one of the finest examples of Egyptian Revival architecture in the U.S. built soon after Napoleon brought the Rosetta stone from Alexandria to Europe, the building originally housed the Medical Department of Hampden-Sydney College, and later the Medical College of Virginia. It served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. A grant from the family of Confederate surgeon Simon Baruch, M.D., funded a complete restoration of the Egyptian Building in 1939.

Interestingly, the department’s roots can be traced back to 1862, when Baruch — “the father of hydrotherapy in America” — graduated from MCV before becoming a noted surgeon during the Civil War. In recognition of his father’s accomplishments, philanthropist Bernard Baruch formed the Baruch Committee on Physical Medicine at MCV in 1940. Clinical physical therapy had been initiated at MCV in 1935 and services increased significantly after 1940 when Drs. Frank H. Krusen and John S. Coulders visited the institution. The committee granted $250,000 to MCV in 1944 to initiate a program of research and education in the area of physical medicine, with special emphasis on spa therapy, hydrotherapy and climatology. This marked the official formation of the department as the Baruch Center of Physical Medicine, with Dr. Frances A. Hellebrandt as the center’s first director.

A basic research laboratory was established by Drs. Ernst Fischer and Clifton B. Cosby in 1944, and a school of physical therapy, leading to a four-year Bachelor of Science degree, was formed two years later. A clinical research division of the center under Hellebrandt also was initiated in 1946, and a clinical division was established by Josephine J. Buchanan, M.D., the following year. Dr. Hellebrandt became the first Chair of PM&R when the center achieved departmental status in 1947. The activities of the newly established departments were consolidated into a single building, the Egyptian Building, in 1949.

In 1951, Hellebrandt resigned and Dr. Walter J. Lee served as acting chair for the following year. He was succeeded by Dr. Herbert Park, who remained chair from 1952 to 1960. Dr. Park, who specialized in industrial medicine and the care of amputees, continued to be involved with resident education as a clinical professor until his death in 2004. He is recognized with a Department endowment fund focused on the growth of academics in Industrial Medicine and Amputation Rehabilitation. Under Park’s leadership, the department transitioned from a predominantly physical medicine-based service to a comprehensive physical medicine and rehabilitation program. A specialized 100-bed inpatient rehabilitation hospital (Memorial Hospital) was established, physical therapy services were expanded to meet inpatient needs, an occupational therapy section was established (1953), an audiology and speech training area were opened (1953), specialized nurses trained in rehabilitation were employed and a recreational supervisor was hired. In addition to providing inpatient rehabilitation to individuals with residual disability following acute hospitalization, consultation services were also provided for individuals in the acute hospital; lectures in physical medicine and rehabilitation were given to medical students, physical therapy students, occupational therapy students, nurses, house officers and general physician staff; and research continued to emphasize clinical applications of hydrotherapy and spa therapy.

The department increased its involvement in the acute care services of the Medical College of Virginia Hospital for the next 15 years, under the leadership of distinguished physiatrists, including Drs. Charles Cohen, John Redford and Lawrence Amick.

In 1975, the department began to achieve increased national exposure under the leadership of Dr. Ernest Griffith. A year later, a young researcher in the field of mental retardation, Paul Wehman, Ph.D., joined the VCU Department of Education, and then in the mid-1980s, he joined the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation to team up with Jeff Kreutzer, Ph.D., (1984) and Chairman Henry Stonnington, M.D., (1983-88). This partnership contributed to VCU becoming an international leader in brain injury and neurosciences rehabilitation. An academic (training) and clinical relationship was established between the Department and the clinicians at the Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation Hospital, which persists to the present. Importantly, around this time of growth, Susan Mellette, M.D., (1980-83) and Guy Clifton, M.D., (1988-90), two non-physiatrist interim chairmen, helped consolidate strong clinical relationships with oncology and neurosurgery, respectively, that continue to exist today. During this period of time, Doug Wayne, M.D. and his successor John Liquori, M.D. provided strong leadership as Residency Directors that enabled the training program to strengthen and expand. Continuing academic and clinical relationships also were established during this time with the rehabilitation programs at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Richmond, under the leadership of Charles Lamb, M.D. and Janice Cockrell, M.D., respectively.

The department diversified its clinical and research activities under the strong leadership of Karen Rucker, M.D., (1990-98), who had a focus on sports medicine and musculoskeletal rehabilitation. In addition to securing research support in pain, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation under Rucker’s tenure, the department began a sports medicine collaboration with the Department of Orthopedics, which persists today in physician coverage of athletic activities throughout Richmond, and expanded its outpatient clinical practice to the community; both of these activities resulting in greatly increased resident exposure. Other program development included pediatric and adult subacute rehabilitation, day rehabilitation, interventional pain and musculoskeletal services. William McKinley, M.D. took over the role of Residency Director in 1990 and has been the guiding force in it steady growth to one of the premiere training departments in the nation. At MCV Hospital, all rehabilitation services were consolidated under the academic purview of the Rehabilitation and Research Center (RRC) in 1992, and David Cifu, M.D., became its first medical director that year. Rucker was also successful in recruiting additional physician-researchers, including Drs. William Walker and Mark Huang, allowing the department to continue its long tradition of publications and research dissemination. Herman J. Flax, M.D., a 1940 MCV graduate and an international leader in the field of PM&R established the department’s first endowed professorship in 1997. Cifu, who joined the department in 1991, succeeded as chairman in 1998, and became a Herman J. Flax, M.D., Professor in 1999. Cifu also has been responsible for consolidating the department’s position in the community into a program that complements the strong academic mission of the department. The growth of the Department has been the result of ongoing efforts from a multitude of faculty and staff, and has included clinical and/or academic involvement in programs at Retreat Hospital, Cumberland Hospital for Adolescents and Children, VCU Stony Point, VCU Spine Center, Massey Cancer Center-Dalton Clinic, and five area nursing homes. The Department has fully integrated into the McGuire VAMC and has helped to establish nationally renowned clinical and academic programming for the care of Veterans and Service members in the areas of Polytrauma, TBI, Amputation, Spinal Cord Injury, Electrodiagnosis, Assistive Technology, Interventional Spine Care, Chronic Pain, Parkinson’s disease, Protein Rich Plasma therapy, Prolotherapy, and more.

The department has expanded its funded research expertise to include cancer, stroke, ADA, cultural issues, spine care, Parkinsons disease and amputee rehabilitation, while maintaining a strong national and international leadership position in brain and spinal cord injury. In 1998 U.S. News and World Report first listed the department among the Top 25 PM&R programs nationally and repeated the honors in 2008-through 2011.

In keeping with its nationwide educational efforts, the department has co-sponsored a traumatic brain injury conference since 1979, a spinal cord injury conference since 1994 years, a Spine/Pain Symposium since 2005, and a handful of others. The department currently admits six PGY-2 residents annually to its 3-year residency program and has fellows in pain medicine, interventional spine, TBI, polytrauma, spinal cord injury, pediatric rehabilitation, amputation and research. More than 50 percent of residency graduates have remained in the mid-Atlantic region, typically in eastern Northern Carolina and Virginia, and one in five graduates remains in academics at colleges and universities ranging from California to Puerto Rico to Michigan.